In our divided political climate, there’s one thing everyone can agree on: that despite his own insistence that he “knows words” and has “the best words,” President Donald Trump says a lot of idiotic things. Yesterday, Trump added to his best-hits catalog of stupid, claiming that the Democrats were treasonous for not clapping during his State of the Union speech. What makes this statement so utterly ridiculous is that the Constitution’s text clearly answers him back about that word: “I do not think it means what you think it means.“
Let’s review. Last Tuesday, the President gave his State of the Union address. Like the speeches of Presidents before him, throughout much of the night, President Trump was cheered on by members of Congress of his own party while the members of the opposing party remained silent. This is a time-honored tradition for State of the Union speeches, one that normally elicits nothing more than a big yawn. No one usually remarks on it because the people who watch these speeches couldn’t care less about this aspect of political theater and the rest of the people in the country – the vast majority of Americans – don’t give the State of the Union address even a passing thought.
President Trump slammed Democrats during his tax reform speech Monday, saying those who didn’t clap during his State of the Union address were “treasonous.” Watch below.
But normal has never applied to the Trump Presidency. Instead of ignoring the Democrats, yesterday President Trump said that they were guilty of the basest of crimes against their country for not applauding his accomplishments during the speech: “Even on positive news – really positive news, like that – they were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said treasonous. Yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”
The President has been roundly criticized today for these comments, particularly from Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) who, unlike the President, served our country’s armed services overseas. But there’s another important response to Trump, and that’s from the Founding Fathers, who thought very carefully about treason, so much that it is the only crime defined in the Constitution:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.
Anyone with a passing understanding of the English language will quickly understand that failing to clap for the President during a speech does not fit this definition. The Democrats did not engage in any overt act that levied war against the United States or adhered, gave aid, or gave comfort to its enemies. Once again, President Trump proves that he has never read or cared about the Constitution.
Predictably, this morning the White House attempted to walk back the President’s remarks, saying that they were merely “tongue-in-cheek” and that no one should take them seriously. Even with normal remarks from the President, whose words have greater impact on the world than almost anyone else’s does, that response falls dangerously flat.
But invoking “treason” is well beyond normal for President Trump. Treason is the most serious crime against our country, which is why it is defined in the Constitution. By labeling Democrats in this way, even if just a joke, he is trying to discredit his opposition and force everyone to be loyal to our dear leader. That is not something a constitutional democracy founded on the very notion of criticizing governmental leaders should countenance. By even suggesting that those who are critical of him are guilty of treason, Trump is acting much more like Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un than like any American leader who has preceded him.
In other words, his comments yesterday were more fitting of a tyrannical regime than a constitutional democracy.